Seeing Stars: The Hotels of the Stars..



One Ritz-Carlton Drive,
Dana Point, CA. / (949) 240-2000 or (800) 241-3333



There are hotels and there are hotels. Then there is the Ritz-Carlton at Laguna Niguel.

Perched atop a lofty 150-foot bluff overlooking the blue Pacific and the gently-rolling Laguna hills, the palatial Ritz-Carlton is in a class all by itself. It is more than a hotel - it is an experience.

It is hardly surprising that the Ritz-Carlton attracts numerous celebrity guests. Just about every well known celebrity has stayed here, from Michael Jackson and Leona Helmsley to U.S. Presidents Reagan, Nixon, Carter and Ford (who stayed in the $3,500-per-night Presidential suite on the hotel's fourth-floor Club Level). It is strictly world-class; the only hotel in Southern California to receive a perfect five-star rating from both Mobil and AAA (despite its rather remote location in southern Orange County).

Stepping through the heavy wooden doors into the hotel's grand lobby is like entering another world, a world of Old Money and exquisite taste - the kind of "Lifestyles..." that has made Robin Leech famous.

Magnificent, 19th century crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling; an immense floral centerpiece brightens up the entrance way. Underfoot are gleaming marble floors and splendid hand-woven carpets; sweeping stone banisters, massive wood-burning fireplaces and antique furniture share the lobby with sumptuous paintings, sculpture and 18th century tapestries from Belgium. A pianist plays softly in the lobby's open lounge, where every window affords delightful views of the blue ocean, rugged cliffs and the curving stretch of sandy beach below.

A visit to this hotel is like a visit to the Getty Museum or the Huntington Library in San Marino - it is one of the most impressive interiors you are likely to see anywhere in the southland.

From the magnificent lobby to its very expensive restaurants, everything at the Ritz-Carlton is just as it should be. There are several charming hotel shops located in the hallways off the main lobby, as well as several fine spots for luxury dining. The hotel boasts 362 guest rooms and 31 suites (from $215 to $2,750), each with a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean, plus heated pools, tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course and a health club. Even the hotel's public rest rooms are exemplary - replete with rich black marble settings and individual cloth hand towels. A map offering a walking-tour of the hotel grounds is available from the concierge desk, to help you find your way around.

The Ritz-Carlton is, of course, open to the public (as is the beach below the resort). You need not stay here as a guest to drop by and take a look around, and such visitors are made to feel welcome. Although the Ritz-Carlton is, obviously, a formal place by nature, many of the paying guests dress in surprisingly casual fashion during the day hours. Still, you will probably want to dress nicely for a visit here. (Do be warned that there is virtually-mandatory valet parking out front, with an obscene $15 charge.)

All of the hotel's restaurants are also open to the public, of course, and there are some wonderful places to dine here, - but as you might well expect, they are also very expensive.

The majestic main Dining Room serves only dinner, with entrees priced in the $35 range. The slightly less-formal Terrace Restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the hotel pool, and serves lunch until 3:30 PM. But entrees here, even at lunch, are priced at $22 and up, and lunch for two can easily run to $100 or more. They also have a Sunday Brunch which is highly praised as the best in the area.

In the lobby, there is The Library, serving formal tea in a wood-paneled, clubby setting (at $13 to $25 per person), as well as the more casual lobby lounge, with its huge arched windows offering a breathtaking view of the coast below. You can stop here for a drink or a light meal.

Suffice it to say that if you appreciate simple beauty and stunning elegance, a visit to the Ritz-Carlton is well worth the trip. It is gorgeous. And if you can resist splurging at one of the restaurants, a visit here is virtually free (except for that unfortunate valet parking fee).

(Incidentally, the hotel also hosts a special Christmas celebration, beginning the last week of November. There is a traditional tree-lighting ceremony, and over 100,000 illuminations line the driveway to the hotel's 100-foot Christmas tree. There are strolling Dickens carolers, special children's programs, and Santa arrives in a carriage drawn by a team of white horses.)

Parking: Valet parking at the door, $15 - no validation at lunch. (I'm told there is a metered beach lot nearby, for just 25 cents an hour.)

 Getting there: The Ritz-Carlton is located right off Pacific Coast Highway, about six miles south of downtown Laguna Beach (in Orange County), and less than two miles north of the Dana Point Harbor, near the border of Laguna Niguel and Dana Point. Laguna Niguel is located about 15 miles south of Newport Beach / From Disneyland, take the Santa Ana (5) Freeway south (about 16 miles) to the "El Toro Y," where it joins with the San Diego (5) Freeway. Continue south on the 5 Freeway (another 17 miles) to the Camino Las Ramblas exit (on the border between San Juan Capistrano and Dana Point), then head back southwest about one mile to Pacific Coast Highway. Take Pacific Coast Highway an additional two miles northwest to Ritz-Carlton Drive. Turn left on Ritz Carlton Drive. / A better route is from downtown Laguna Beach: simply follow Pacific Coast Highway six miles south (along a pleasant, scenic drive), to just past Crown Valley Parkway. Turn right (west) on Ritz-Carlton Drive, then turn left into the gate (marked with a bronze plaque that reads simply "Ritz-Carlton"). A valet will take your car.


[For more information about this subject, you can access the Ritz-Carlton's own website at: http://www.ritzcarlton.com.]





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